Every year I do the same stupid routine. I mope around all winter mumbling incoherently to myself about missing baseball. Then the end of February approaches and I get momentarily excited about the beginning of Spring Training only to quickly remember that Grapefruit League baseball is long, pointless, and boring. It’s the ultimate tease to the baseball nerd. I’d rather watch Jim Leyland eat spaghetti with chopsticks for three hours than watch more than ten minutes of a Spring Training game.
But with the arrival of Spring Training are the hopes and dreams of the new season. Is this finally the year for us? Can the Tigers win their first World Championship since 1984? Can Miguel Cabrera win the MVP award yet again? Is this finally the season when the decision makers for the Tigers finally realize the only way Don Kelly should be allowed into Comerica Park is if he is taking Singing Hot Dog Guy’s old job?
The 2014 campaign will begin in a little over a month. Let’s take a quick look at this year’s cast of characters in Detroit and what they have to offer.
The Made Men
Miguel Cabrera, First Base
He’s the two-time reigning AL MVP and will be moving back to first base this season, a position he plays much better at than third. Reportedly, Miggy is healthy entering 2014 after being near death for the final month of the 2013 season. Cabrera’s a beast and would probably have to brutally murder the majority of my family for me to even consider booing him. Appreciate how lucky we are to watch him play every day for us this season.
Max Scherzer, Starting Pitcher
Max won the Cy Young award last year and is entering the final season of his contract with the Tigers. He’ll be looking to repeat his brilliant 2013 and cash in for some Kershaw/Verlander money afterward. This is realistically Max’s last season as a Tiger so enjoy it while it lasts.
Justin Verlander, Starting Pitcher
JV’s 2013 numbers were good, but they were down for him. That’s how amazing he was in the couple seasons prior. He returned to his MVP/Cy Young form in the playoffs and will look to carry that over to the 2014 season. He injured himself working out in the offseason and needed surgery, putting his Opening Day availability in doubt. However, the media is much more concerned with what he’s driving and/or who he’s sticking his penis in to focus on stuff like that. Welcome to SPORTZ NEWZ IN 2014, people.
Anibal Sanchez, Starting Pitcher
Only an injury causing him to miss a few starts last season kept Sanchez from being Max’s top competition for the Cy Young Award. His 2.57 ERA was the best of his career and led the league. Having a #3 starter that would be an ace on most clubs is this team’s biggest advantage once again in 2014. When the Big Three are all on, this team will always be tough to beat in a best of five/seven playoff series. Of course, you still need to score...
Victor Martinez, Designated Hitter
After missing all of 2012 due to injury, V-Mart struggled out of the gate in 2013 before finishing with a monster second half. He remains one of the best pure hitters in the game and will have to stay healthy this year if Cabrera ever wants to see a strike thrown to him.
Ian Kinsler, Second Base
Kinsler joins the Tigers as a three-time All Star that’s realistically capable of hitting .270/.340/.440 with 15-20 homers and stealing 20 bases. He’s got a plus glove at second and rarely strikes out (59 K’s in 614 PA in 2013). Many fans will like Kinsler solely for the fact that Prince Fielder was traded for him.
Is THIS The Breakthrough Year For (Insert Player)???
Rick Porcello, Starting Pitcher
It’s easy to forget that Rick’s still only 25 years old. For each of the past three seasons, experts have tabbed Porcello as a possible “breakout” player (not a herpes joke). And they’re doing it again this year. With a vastly improved infield defense and five full MLB seasons behind him, this may finally be Kid Rick’s make or break year. We have seen him impress in the past, but it’s a matter of him getting some sustained consistency from start to start. And actually getting out of an inning against the Angels.
Alex Avila, Catcher
He’s hurt already, you know. The poor kid takes more abuse than any MLB player I’ve ever seen. Alex was an All-Star and outstanding in 2011. In the past two seasons, though, it’s been a struggle at the plate for him. He has only played in 116 and 102 games the past two years after Leyland abused him for 141 appearances in 2011. And with Brayan Pena gone, there is no proven backup around to give Avila any sustained relief this year, a ridiculous oversight by the team in this jerk’s opinion. Martinez’s creaky knees certainly can’t been counted on for more than a handful of starts behind the dish in NL parks. Alex calls and catches a good game and the pitchers love him. But with the abuse he takes, getting through 2014 healthy will take a miracle. If he hits .260 with 16-18 homers, be ecstatic.
Austin Jackson, Center Field
The tools are there. He can hit. He can run. And he fields center field at Comerica like no one else before him. But Jackson is prone to falling into funks and looking lost at the plate. Perhaps a permanent drop from the leadoff spot will be the thing to take pressure off of him and let him blossom into the star I think he’s capable of being. When Jackson is at this best, only Cabrera is more fun to watch play in Detroit.
Torii Hunter, Right Field
Torii was as advertised at the plate last year, arriving and hitting at a .300 clip all season. But his defense in right field was shockingly bad with the reputation Hunter has built up over his career. At age 39, the end is near for Torii the Tiger. He came to Detroit to win a title and hopefully he can hold up one more year and help get the job done.
Joe Nathan, Closer
This asshole. Joe Nathan, also 39 years old, has 341 saves in his MLB career. 36 of them (10.6%) have come against the Tigers. I’ve watched this guy dominate Detroit forever, it seems. But now, he’s our guy in the ninth. He’s also our guy that’s losing fastball velocity and will be 40 a month after the World Series ends. And then we’ll pay him another $10 million next year, too. And Nathan’s salary is a big part of the reason Dombrowski felt he needed to trade Doug Fister. He had better be worth it. I’m already used to hating him, after all.
Human Question Marks
Drew Smyly, Starting Pitcher
Doug Fister threw 208.2 innings for the Tigers last year. Smyly, his rotation replacement, has never thrown more than 126, which he did in 2011 in the minors. I like Drew and look forward to seeing him develop as a Tigers starter. But with a bullpen full of guys that can’t be trusted, it’s asking a lot of Smyly to fill Doug’s big shoes. And if Smyly struggles? The backup plan seems to be jack and shit.
Andy Dirks, Left Field
Dirks was a pleasant surprise in 2012. But last year, he struggled most of the time. Jim Leyland even benched him in the playoffs for Don Kelly because Leyland’s a mean prick that hates us. He claims a knee injury bothered him all season and the guy’s got a lot to prove this year in a platoon with Rajai Davis. If Dirks hits righties like he did two years ago, this Prince-less, Peralta-less offense will be much better than people expect.
Rajai Davis, Left Field
Davis was added to be Dirks’ platoon partner and start against lefties. He’s the fastest non-Quintin Berry player the Tigers have had in forever and will steal 40+ bases this year. But his struggles against right-handers will be annoying if Jackson or Hunter get hurt and Davis is asked to take an everyday role.
Bruce Rondon, Relief Pitcher
He’s wild. He’s inconsistent. He’s projected to be our eventual setup man. If the Tigers want to go far in the playoffs this year, Rondon needs to live up to his 2006 Joel Zumaya 2.0 potential. If he flops, this team is in desperate need to acquire another proven bullpen arm.
Al Alburquerque, Relief Pitcher
AlAl can be brilliant or abysmal, sometimes in the same inning. Like Forrest Gump’s famous chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. When he’s on, his slider is one of the best in baseball. When he’s not, many facepalms will be had in Tigerland.
Ian Krol, Relief Pitcher
Krol is the relatively unknown lefty acquired in the Fister trade that Dombrowski is counting on to be the primary lefty out of the Detroit pen this year. Righties hit him pretty well, though, so hopefully Brad Ausmus will be careful with him.
Joba Chamberlain, Relief Pitcher
The bullpen was the team’s primary weakness in 2013. And the three best relievers in that bunch were Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, and Jose Veras. None of those three are in this year’s pen, while the rest of the leftover clowns remain. Nathan was added to be the closer. And Chamberlain is supposed to be the setup man to begin the season. The problem with that is Joba hasn’t been anything resembling a good pitcher in four of the past five years. He’s a constant injury risk and walked 5.6 batters per 9 innings last year. At one time, he was supposed to be a future star. But that was seven years ago. Chamberlain may not be DD’s most expensive acquisition this offseason, but he is probably the biggest gamble.
Nick Castellanos, Third Base
The future has arrived. When is the last time a Tiger rookie had this kind of buildup as a hitter? Kirk Gibson, maybe? There’s going to be a lot of pressure by fans and the media on Castellanos. Hopefully the presence of guys like Cabrera, Hunter, and Martinez help him along the way. Please be patient with him.
The Human Highlight Reel
Jose Iglesias, Shortstop
A full season of watching this kid play short is going to be fun. We haven’t had a shortstop this good on defense since Trammell’s glory days. Iggy’s not going to hit Cabrera’s weight, but that’s not his job. If he can continue to dazzle in the field, he can hit .240 and no one will bat an eye. I’m looking forward to watching Jose’s D as much as I am Miggy’s O in 2014. And that’s saying a lot.
Are You Shitting Me?
Bryan Holaday, Catcher
Don Kelly, Utility
Make it stop.
Steve Lombardozzi, Utility
Fuck you, Dave.
Holaday, Kelly, and Lombardozzi will all likely provide solid defense. Yet none will probably hit more than .240 with little power. If any of the starters get hurt, this is what the team will have to work with. No team has a group of All-Stars sitting on their bench…I know this. But the good ones usually have at least one guy that can hit in the majors. Remember last year’s Red Sox team with Nava, Carp, and Bogaerts waiting to come off the bench? I sure as hell do.
We have Kelly, Lombo, and Holaday.
/drinks pint of bleach
Phil Coke, Alleged Relief Pitcher
Coke is slated to make $1.9 million this year. Baseball is funny.
Of course, there will be a rotating cast of other characters that will likely make appearances in Motown this season. They include Jose Alvarez, Casey Crosby, Luke Putkonen, Evan Reed, and Hernan Perez. None look appealing.
Baseball-reference projects the Tigers payroll in 2014 to be over $161 million, second in the AL to only the Yankees. With that kind of cash tied up in contracts, one would like to see many less question marks on the club. The bullpen and bench are beyond lackluster. This team desperately needs to stay healthy this season if they want to win. The Tigers have the depth of a drained kiddie pool, unfortunately.
I still expect them to win the AL Central. Scherzer, Verlander, and Sanchez leading the rotation should be enough to hold off a weak division. Kinsler, Cabrera, and Victor will score and knock in plenty of runs. For the playoffs and beyond, though?
This team is far from complete. Then again, which team is complete before March 1st?